Anyone who’s ever graced a dancefloor knows that it’s near impossible to resist dancing to disco music, a phenomenon observed in the socially distanced audience at The Space, who applied a variety of head-bopping and toe-tapping techniques to the pre-show playlist. Nick Dawkin’s Dancing To Disco uses this as the background to a superbly crafted monologue that deals with class, inequalities, and coming of age.
Tommy is a typical working-class lad from Manchester, a scholarship has given him an education that his peers would be deprived off, but his own hard work has paid off, securing him a university place at Oxford. Tommy tells us that he’s the first in his family, and the first in his street, to go to university, and on this, his final Saturday in Manchester, we share his extraordinary night out.
Like Tommy himself, we never really know what to expect next. Dawkin’s has written a play that is neither obvious nor convoluted, and instead focusses on a few key issues and deals with them well. The result is that we identify with Tommy almost immediately, sharing his hopes, and disappointments, with him in real time.
The aspect of class is brutally addressed in one particular scene, where Tommy’s future literally hangs on how much change he has in his pocket. It’s beautifully written, as the audience ache with the same anger embarrassment as Tommy does.
Tom Claxton, who worked closely with Dawkins on the script, is a force to be reckoned with. Switching from high energy to downtrodden in a heart beat, his highly expressive performance is gripping, particularly in the way he engages with his audience, making it very easy for us to empathise with the character.
Where Claxton really excels is in the various characters he portrays around Tommy; his family, the friends he’ll leave behind, and the potential friends of his future. Each of these are imbued with their own personality, mannerisms, and tone of voice that captivates the audience.
Director, Charlie Norburn, delicately balances those spirited scenes with the more serious. It allows the themes of class difference and Northern identity to get the attention they deserve. The staging may be simple, but it’s effective, bringing the city of Manchester into vivid focus, while Caelan Oram’s lighting design creates distinct and identifiable scenes.
The writer probably only intends Tommy and the characters around him to exist in this one-night snapshot, but the characters are so well developed there’s more than enough here to expand it out into a full length play. There’s even potential for it to follow in the footsteps of Fleabag and be the next fringe show to transfer to the small screen; a Mancunian Skins for the roaring twenties.
Even if it remains in its current form, Dancing to Disco is an authentic piece of writing that rings true at every level, and just like your urge to dance at the opening bar of a Donna Summer song, this is new writing that’s impossible to resist.
Dancing to Disco is at The Space until Saturday 28th August.